Throwing in the towel on the Junction road — a teachable moment
Motorists travel along a narrow section of the Junction main road in St Mary where aroad improvement project is under way.

After more than a billion dollars spent, massive budget overrun, and incomplete status five years after its scheduled completion, major construction works on the notorious Junction road linking Kingston and St Mary may have to be abandoned, Prime Minister Andrew Holness has indicated.

"It is a treacherous area to work in because of the soil type. What it would require to do the entire stretch, to build it in such a way that you guard against all the potential risks of slippage, both from the hillside and the river side, would be a massive expenditure," Mr Holness admitted in a January 14 speech.

We in this space felt a sense of sadness and worry for our country as we listened to Mr Holness in his address to the official opening of the Port Maria Fire Station in the parish that had so eagerly awaited the successful completion of the road works.

"What we're now doing is trying to identify a new path, because it may be that we have to build an entirely new stretch of road to connect — coming from Stony Hill [St Andrew] — using maybe the same direction, same pathway, but not the same alignment," said Mr Holness.

But our sadness in this space is not for the reason that many might expect. We suspect that no one feels more let down than the prime minister, who had envisioned a wide, flashing new arterial road overshadowed by majestic hills and cradled by lush vegetation that would be a boon to the economy of that eastern enclave.

Mr Holness will not be accused of not thinking big. Junction was a project that was a worthy element of the legacy of any leader whose nights are filled with dreams of a tenure that would leave a better country than they had found.

We do not know what specifically caused the overrun on the project — at least twice the $600 million first announced by the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation. Budget overrun is a term that popularly conjures up money gone into the pockets of connected contractors.

But it is our sense that Surrey Paving must feel as remorseful as anyone else at not having been able to deliver the much-desired thoroughfare in keeping with its vaunted reputation as a top construction firm.

A technical explanation of the problem by Surrey Paving might yet prove useful to our populace, in a context in which local contractors have clamoured for big projects that have gone to the Chinese with their equipment, technology, and labourers.

The Junction road enterprise has been a failure of epic proportions, but mainly because it was destined to be so from the beginning. The tragedy might be that this could not have been foreseen before all that money and time was wasted.

The prime minister has clearly written it off, declaring that no amount of patching can repair the existing road or give it a guarantee of long-term service, and that "the road has outlived its useful life".

We give him the last word: "All those roads were built 80 years ago… none of them were built to the standards that we expect now. When they were built no one thought that they would be carrying the volume of traffic that they are carrying.

"Those were tracks that were traversed by donkey carts; they were never built with… the sub-base and the revetments and retaining walls that are necessary. So, we will have to make new investments in those roads."

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